I have fond memories of the hours I spent as a child partaking in the sacred art of daydreaming. There were many places where I was free to daydream, indulging stories of dragons, fairies, princes and uncharted, mysterious lands. Parochial school, I learned, was not the place. Instead, I was reprimanded for being inattentive while I spent hours gazing out the windows, searching for the next fantasy. Ironically, it was through the very institution of the Catholic Church that I was later given free reign to indulge daydreaming as an authentic meditative practice.
"Integrative Spirituality" was a required course of the Lay Ministry program I completed through the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay. In this class, Sr. Marie Schwan, revealed to us the vast treasures of the Christian mystical tradition. Among these treasures was a little known practice (at least among lay Christians) known as Imagination Contemplation. This practice, popularized by St. Ignatius of Loyola, invites the participant to use their imagination as a way to listen to the voice of God within. Imagination Contemplation, I discovered is daydreaming as meditation.
The practice of Imagination Contemplation traditionally begins with a narrative story from the Bible. The story of Jesus’ birth would be one such example. (The beauty of this form of meditation is that its effectiveness is not limited to Hebrew or Christian scripture. Any sacred writing, folklore, myth, fairy tale or historical narrative could be used.) You begin by reading the story slowly and meditatively, letting it move you. Next, choose a character from the story, one that is named or unnamed. Allow yourself to become that person, entering into the scene in its fullness. Imagine the weather, what you are wearing, what you look like, the other people present. Allow the story to unfold from the perspective of your chosen character. Let your imagination run wild, taking note of all that is revealed, especially your emotional response as the story unfolds. Give yourself ample time to indulge this process. After the narrative has come to an end in your mind, write your imaginings in your journal, watch for additional details that may come forth as you write. Finally, read what you have written and reflect on what God may be saying to you through this playful daydreaming; especially how this story may be reflective of your own journey.
Through Imagination Contemplation, I have rediscovered the gift of my creative imagination. Embracing this practice, I have come to hear the voice of God in my life. The bible, a text I previously perceived as distant and unapproachable, has suddenly become the living, breathing word of God. Scripture has become relevant and has become a profound source of nourishment…all because I discovered a way to embrace the gift inherent in every child – the gift of daydreaming. Thank you St. Ignatius for giving our imaginations permission to play!